December 06, 2012 07:00 PM EST Cincinnati


Cased Full Plate Daguerreotype of Post-Mexican War-Era Brigadier General, Possibly Persifor F. Smith

An exceedingly rare portrait of an as yet unidentified general officer wearing the uniform and single star of a brigadier general under the dress regulations of 1851, ca 1855.

The double-breasted dark blue frock coat with black velvet collars and cuffs bears two rows of eight high-domed eagle staff buttons grouped in pairs. Plain trousers were matching dark blue made without stripe, welt, or cord. The gold bullion dress epaulets are worn in tandem with shoulder straps clearly showing the single silver star of a brigadier general. The high crown M1851 shako or dress cap has a lower band of dark blue velvet surmounted with an embroidered gold wreath encircling the letters U.S in silver, old English script. The pompom for general officers was likewise a gold embroidered net acorn atop the prescribed metallic eagle device.

The sword is a magnificent example of the expensive, heavily gilded Ames made M1832 General and Staff Officer’s pattern characterized by its faux wired wrapped silver grip. We note that this custom made piece has an unusual quillon that terminates in a cast acorn shaped finial. The extra fancy brass scabbard is inscribed in a panoply of arms and laurel leaves and was made with a frog mount in addition to the side by side scabbard rings. The sword belt rig is shiny patent leather fitted with a gilded rectangular eagle plate under which is wrapped a buff colored silk sash.

This singular daguerreotype of a general officer with wispy goatee was consigned without any name or background information. Given that there were only a handful of brigadiers in the regular army that would have donned the 1851 uniform during the antebellum period, eventual identification is entirely probable. The universe of possibilities comprises just six officers, namely: T.S. Jesup, John E. Wool, D.E. Twiggs, George Cadwalader, Persifor Smith, and William S. Harney. Excluded from the roster is Stephen Watts Kearny who had died in 1848, and former brigadier Franklin Pierce who resigned in 1848, later becoming President. Jesup (born 1788), Wool (1784), and Twiggs (1790) were all arguably too old (based on comparison to existing photographs) to be the seemingly younger officer in this daguerreotype. Cadwalader had been discharged in 1848 and did not rejoin the army until 1861. The bearded, white haired William Selby Harney was not promoted to brigadier until 1858, too late to be this portrait. The default winner is Persifor F. Smith (1798-1858) who was promoted to regular brigadier in December 1856 and bears a passing resemblance to the subject in the dag based on a comparison to period illustrations. Parenthetically, none of the Mexican War volunteer brevet major generals reverted to the rank of regular brigadier afterwards and none remained in the army by time of the 1851 regulations.

While the identity remains a conundrum, the daguerreotype is a textbook example of an antebellum regular army brigadier general in never before seen full plate format with considerable upside potential if the subject can be documented.

Condition:The plate shows typical oxidation around the mat line, else near EXC. with strong clarity dead center than softens towards the face and shako. Housed in an intact composition case showing moderate scuffs and abrasions commensurate with age. Case missing the top closure hook. Evidence of paper seals but we were unable to extract the plate and glass from the tight fitting case to examine the back.

Estimate: $8,000 - $10,000
Price Realized Including Buyer's Premium


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